3710 Junction St., Detroit; 313-894-2070; elbarzonrestaurant.com
It has been three years since El Barzón closed its front door and turned its commodious covered patio in the rear into its entrance. The atmospheric, moody space is the perfect setting for that romantic meal, a sensuous yet festive area where you can enjoy chef Norberto Garita's Italian and Mexican fare in the open air.
THREE-WAY TIE Kresge Court 5200 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-833-7900; dia.org Trinosophes 1464 Gratiot Ave., Detroit; 313-737-6606; trinosophes.com Café 78 (inside MOCAD) 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-784-9636; mocadetroit.org/cafe.html
Our winners are dedicated to the proposition that no art-lover deserves to starve. They’re all serving benefactor-worthy fare (sandwich breads include focaccia, ciabatta, brioche), and two of the three maintain a full bar. It’s set up to look like nibbling — paté, charcuterie and cheese boards, house-made potato chips — but you can easily find enough to keep you going for a hard day of high culture. Trinosophes and Café 78 even serve breakfast. All the food spaces are big, but in the latter two it’s big as in barn-like whereas at the DIA, the gorgeous Kresge Court is part of the art experience.
161 Vester Ave., Ferndale; 248-629-9951; valentinedistilling.com
When Michigan loosened restrictions on small-batch distilling, Rifino Valentine was one of the first ones there, distilling his own Valentine vodka in a hand-pounded copper still. He opened his own tasting room in Ferndale to showcase the brand before any locals thought to, and then followed on the heels of bleeding-edge distillers by producing a cask gin, dubbed Liberator Old Tom Gin. Valentine didn't just earn our readers' honors by getting there early, but by staying at the forefront of a fast-moving scene.
How does New Holland give its bourbon such a malty character? By aging it in beer barrels, of course. First, the whiskey is aged in fresh American oak barrels for a few years, then it gets three months in a barrels that previously contained New Holland's well-loved Dragon's Milk, which confers notes of toffee and caramel, and makes the bourbon a sure thing for fans of the stout it shares barrels with.
2445 Michigan Ave., Detroit; twojames.com
The hype about Two James' whiskey? It's inspired by the mystery flavor "umami" of the rich pork and fish broths of Japanese cuisine, pours delicately, drinks a little smoky, and has 70 percent corn and 30 percent rye. And, according to our readers, the hype is a stimulating reality.
To be truly considered tequila, a spirit must be made from the blue agave plant and produced in the area surrounding Tequila, Mexico. Cabresto follows that tradition, but has Michigan ownership, giving this particular tequila dual citizenship. The brand makes an ultra silver as well as a reposado, and both have won San Francisco World Spirits Double Gold awards.
5019 NW Bay Shore Dr., Omena; 231-386-5201; leelanaucellars.com
Leelanau has survived for nearly four decades, and there's a reason for that: It produces over 30 wines that have a reach across the Great Lakes region. Meaning "delight of life," Leelanau is a byproduct of Northern Michigan — from the taste to the winery's locale to its environment.
2460 Market St., Detroit; 313-393-1711
3601 E. 12 Mile Rd., Warren; 586-576-0495; viviosdetroit.net
The bloody mary is at the very core of Vivio's. The mascot on the sign is a pepper holding a bloody. The words bloody mary are right in the URL, fachristsake. And it's a good one, peppery, with a little sidekick of beer. But Vivio's has also added new twists to its signature concoction, as it now comes in several versions, including "Loaded," "the Morning After," "BLT," "Insanity Habanero," and "Two Gun Louie Bloody Mary."
734 Beaubien St., Detroit; 313-961-4303; nikisdetroit.com
Time has certainly shown us by now that Greek cuisine and Italian can go together excellently. We're finally used to the Greektown establishment's extensive remodel, with its attractive booths and even a wood-fired pizza oven. Go in with a friend and get a small square pie, ensuring your pizza is hot out of the oven. And try the lamb topping — you won't find that at every pizza place.
32218 Woodward Ave., Royal Oak; 248-549-8000; buddyspizza.com
What if Buddy's didn't win? That would be like visiting downtown, and all the sculptures were missing. Or listening to your favorite John Lee Hooker song, and his voice was yanked out of it. Buddy's must win this category, because it's the best Detroit-style pizza in Detroit. Arguably, it has been since 1946. Gooey, delicious, burnt cheese — take your friends there when they visit from out of town. Get a large despite the fact that three people will never finish it, so that you can have that cold slice from the fridge tomorrow.